London to New York: two movies, a bit of sleep and one article read.
New York to Philadelphia: trying to figure out how to post in the blog, reviewing the paper for the presentation and thinking how nervous I will be tomorrow.

I landed yesterday in New York, and now I am in the train to Philadelphia. I was invited to present my paper at the annual Congress On Research in Dance (CORD) Conference, that this year is going to be held in Philadelphia, 17th to 20th of November 2011. My paper titled “Dancing Nationhood in Spain” address the problems of gender and national construction in contemporary Spain through a close reading of a contemporary dance piece, Bésame el Cactus, by Catalan choreographer Sol Pico.

Like Woody Allen when discovering the murder in Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993), just before a conference, I enter in a state of excitement where I feel “I have adrenaline coming out of my ears”. I love academic conferences. And maybe, this is the paradoxical feeling of excitement and nervousness that drives me crazy until the end of my presentation.

The opportunity to meet renowned scholars and socialize with other researchers is a great chance to check the actual status quo of the profession. However, at the end of the conference, safely back home I normally need five days of forced repose to restore the normal function of my brain, after such research presentations overdose.

Now, while getting ready for my talk, I leave you with the Mission Statement of CORD: “(CORD) promotes a globally inclusive respectful dialogue around embodied and discursive approaches to dance research. Building on the rich legacy of dance scholarship, CORD advances innovative and creative understandings of dance. Through mentorship, advocacy, and outreach, CORD fosters an international community of current and future dance leaders.”

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In the end of June the Postgraduate students and staff from the DFT department were invited to share a collaboration experience guided by the Map Consortium crew. The workshop was part of the Research Skills through Collaboration project of the department and supported by the University of Surrey. Curated by the Dance Lecture Jennifer Jackson, since 2009 the series has been providing different opportunities for the current postgraduate scholars and practitioners in performance from the University of Surrey to explore interdisciplinary collaborative skills and develop creative and innovative approaches to research. The second edition of “Point: Counterpoint”  was a day of experiments aiming to investigate the creative dialogue between movement, sound and film.

The group of collaborators was composed of dance, film and music staff and students including external guests. Inside the brand new Ivy Performing Arts Centre the hands-in workshop was divided into morning and afternoon sessions. It started off with an introduction to the work leaving each participant with the curious thoughts of what was really going to happen. We were invited to understand and explore different approaches into collaborative composition of interdisciplinary art pieces.

Going through the exercises proposed by the facilitators, it was interesting to notice the way in which the gaze and imagination of each one transformed the view and imagination of the other in a constant feedback process. Together we realized how each person can change and influence on what the other is thinking and doing and how collaboration can change the pathways of the work and can reach unexpected results.

Different than most (and usual) collaborations in which one person has an idea and selects other disciplinary experts to join in with their know-how, all activities proposed in the workshop involved the beginning of a new idea by each team. Although this approach is seldom explored it provides the collaborative partners an enhanced fertile ground on which to work on.

The afternoon was set for a single exercise where we were to create a collaborative performance from the scratch. There was no fixed style to be followed. The only requirement was that the whole group should be involved in all stages of the process.  We worked together with enthusiasm till the performance time. In the end of the day we were able to discuss the process and results of each work presented.

Although my current PhD research does not involve collaboration, this workshop was extremely important to enlighten creative approaches into my own thinking. Regardless that it was only a small taste of the numberless possibilities of collaboration, it was interesting to learn (and live through) that many times we anticipate and struggle to know everything that is going to happen from the start of a process. However this can kill opportunities, creative methods and possible outcomes. On this workshop we were given a chance to ease our anxiety and let ourselves take the risk and discover the beauty and richness of the unknown, something that we tend to instantly rush through in our daily research lives.

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The past six months with Rambert Dance Company have been a fantastic learning experience and despite, at times, being extremely challenging the amount I have learnt about a professional dance company is incredible and I have been given so many great opportunities.

My role within the Company was Learning and Participation Assistant. This involved organising workshops to take place in schools, booking evening classes and summer schools, writing resource packs and information packs and liaising with different organisations (for example Age UK)  that Rambert can work with whilst on tour across the UK. For a couple of weeks I also took on the job of Administrative Assistant which involved being a Personal Assistant to the Chief Executive and Artistic Director, taking care of the online resource orders and finances, answering the main telephone and answering both internal and external enquiries. It was extremely challenging to do both this and my usual work but I have gained an even further insight into the Company. My project was a two day course for young people aged 14-16 and involved me advertising the course, contacting an animateur to teach the course, providing information to all of the participants, all the administrative work and documenting the course.

For the last six weeks I spent every Tuesday in two primary schools in Hackney as part of a project. Alongside a Rambert animateur we led a warm up and basic technique class and then went on to teach Rambert repertoire. The final performance was at Laban where all seven schools involved in the project performed their version of a piece of Rambert repertoire.

My placement finished on 1 April 2011 however I am very grateful to Rambert as they offered me the opportunity to continue working there so I can continue to learn about a professional company. Although the past six months have been extremely challenging and very different from University the experience and knowledge I have gained is extremely valuable and I feel so lucky to be spending my placement year with Rambert Dance Company.

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Film Works, the annual open screening of work from Film and Media Studies students, went decidedly upmarket this year with the help of Dance Film and Theatre events manager Jamie Harber and his able assistant Shadia Akokhia.   The screening was held in the Performing Arts  Studios where the large cyclorama in the main auditorium meant we could project films onto a really big screen.  For a filmmaker there is nothing quite like seeing your work in the dark, with an audience and in cinemascope!

As Film Studies expands the range of work has become more diverse with the department’s forays into drama on screen for the first time this year.  Students have really taken advantage of practice modules in Narrative Construction and the hugely popular Scriptwriting  module to produce some exciting work.  While Qasim Arshad’s ‘A Comfortable  Silence’ presented a light-hearted look at the challenges of internet dating, Ieva Bachtiarova’s  ‘ Retrocognition’ took us into a darker futuristic world set in a hauntingly snowbound industrial landscape.  The 3-minute portraits by first year students once again highlighted the lively interest students are taking in the new world around them at university; Chantal Marie Luchetta’s ‘ Diagnosis Dwarfism’ gave us a fascinating insight into how small people cope in a large world and Nick Roberts revealed a flair for wild life photography and stately composition in his portrait of Chiswick House.

The work was well received by an appreciative audience and clearly had the pedagogic impact we hoped for.  First year film student Adrian Anderson was impressed by the range of styles – ‘ It made me think I need to do more with my projects’ he said, while theatre students, a number of whom appeared in the dramas, were out in force and visibly excited about seeing themselves on the big screen.

The highlight of the evening was the screening of this year’s JVC Sound and Vision Competition winning entry.  The competition, sponsored by JVC, is designed to encourage collaboration between filmmakers and music and sound recording students on campus and this year’s prize went to Glebs Nargornijs and Arjun Bhamra for ‘Music’.  ‘ It’s interesting to see how someone else re-contextualizes a piece’ said Arjun who created the score, while Glebs, who in his second year is already a prolific filmmaker, welcomed a further opportunity to work with musicians.

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By Ieva Bachtiarova (Film Student)

We had the first meeting about Guildford International Music festival in November 2010 and, although we still had 4 months until the actual festival, the students showed their enthusiasm and I was really looking forward to experiencing something new. The initial task was to divide ourselves into groups and I became the production and post-production co-ordinator.

The day I received the programme brochure, I became even more excited since the list of the artists was impressive and included one of my favourite groups  – Warsaw Village Band.  We had several meeting and talks about camera use and other requirements, since 1st year students had only started their film practice modules, but they were eager to learn. Moreover our researcher Martin was looking after permissions to film and I was coordinating team work – we had to share cameras, memory cards and most importantly team members! We included 18 events to our ‘wish list’ and everybody understood that they were equally important in this project, because each event required at least two people to film.

Our studious organization proved to be efficient – we managed to cover all the 18 events in 20 days of the festival, and I personally filmed and attended 7 of them. We had the opportunity to interview some of the artists and the audience, and I am happy that all 1st years found this an incredible experience which not only expanded their music horizons but boosted their confidence in filmmaking.

Currently we are in the process of post-production, which again is a new challenge for 1st year students, but I know they will learn a lot, because the same happened to me last year when I was editing another project in this university – Arts Experience. All in all, I personally think it was one of the highlights of my 2nd year in University – and the great team of 1st year students is one of the main reasons I can claim that.

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For the past few years I have dabbled in burlesque classes, workshops and performances, which have forced me to engage with what might be described as an ‘excessive femininity’. While at first the exaggerated wiggles, shimmies, winks and smiles seemed at odds with a body influenced by a 1980s feminism that had sought to repress its feminine sensibilities, I slowly began to welcome this playful exploration of my gender construction. I was amazed to discover that false eyelashes, lashings of lipstick and saucy moves could offer a real sense of pleasure.

Last autumn, however, my body embarked on another kind of education as I began to attend hip hop classes. While women have participated in hip hop since its emergence in the 1970s, it is frequently associated with a hyper masculine dancing body that displays spectacular power moves and macho posturing. So once again, my body has experienced another reconstruction as I try to grasp these hard, edgy moves.

What I have enjoyed through all of this is recognising the mobility of gender and knowing that I can shape how I enact my gendered body both at work and in leisure time. For all of us, this is a powerful resource.

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